Kids in the Kitchen
AHN Pediatrics — Pediatric Alliance St. Clair
An alternative title for this article might be “Getting Your Kids to Help in the Kitchen without Making Extra Work for Yourself.” Guided by practicality, I dismiss many “kid friendly recipes” as too elaborate and time-consuming to put into practice. But kids really can be helpful in the kitchen when given age- and developmentally appropriate tasks. Bonus: kids are more likely to eat when they are involved in food selection and preparation.
The list below provides guidance for developmentally appropriate food preparation tasks for kids. Skills and comfort levels can vary widely, so it is always safest to use the skill building approach — I show you, we do it together, you show me. Also in the interest of safety, teach children to cut on a secure cutting board, cutting away from their hand, holding the food with their fingers curled under. Cutting the vegetable in half lengthwise and placing cut side down is safer since the vegetable or fruit isn’t rolling about.
• Gather Ingredients
• Give veggies and fruits a bath
• Tear Lettuce
• Wipe down countertops
• Roll Dough
• Use Cookie Cutters
• Measure Ingredients
• Stir, Mix, and Pour
• Mashing Potatoes
• Cut soft ingredients
• Shell Peas and Beans
• Form ingredients like meatball and hamburger patties
• Crack Eggs
• Grate Cheese
• Peel fruits and vegetables (with a peeler)
• Cut soft fruits and vegetables
• Frost Cupcakes and Cookies
• Use Stovetop with Supervision
• Cut firm fruits and vegetables
• Make Salads
• Steam Vegetables and Rice
• Make & Cook Pancakes
• Make Scrambled Eggs
• Operate Small Appliances
• Brown Hamburger
• Use the Oven
• Load/Unload Dishwasher
• Make Rice/Pasta
• Ability to make full meals and clean up
A great way to get kids involved in the kitchen, AND encourage snacking on fruits and vegetables is to enlist the help of your kids to make selections at the grocery store or farmer’s market. Prepping and storing a variety of fruits and vegetables in containers makes them readily available for snacking or quick prep meals. Examples of vegetables that store well are peppers, cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, and salad greens (a salad spinner for storage is ideal). Fruits to prep ahead include oranges, pineapple, and melons. Youngest children can wash the fruits and vegetables. Younger elementary children and peel and cut softer fruits and vegetables. Older elementary and pre-teens can cut the firm fruits and vegetables. Teens can cut pineapple and melon.
“Some Assembly Required” dinners are my favorite way to navigate everyone’s food preferences while getting the kids involved in the kitchen. Build your own quesadillas, pizza, pasta, salad, stir fry, or even dinner omelettes give kids a chance to get involved, and everyone can have their favorite. For example, using the Quesadillas recipe below, kids can be given age-appropriate prep tasks — young children can drain and rinse canned beans and corn, wash vegetables; elementary age children can slice or chop vegetables, grate cheese if needed; older kids can sauté vegetables and cook meats. Everyone can help get out other ingredients and cheese, then let the quesadilla construction begin!
Build Your Own Quesadilla
• 8-10 Whole Wheat 10” tortillas
• 4-6 cups Mexican Cheese
• Cooking Spray
Choice of add-ins
• Black Beans
• Sauteed onions, mushroom, peppers, or spinach
• Cooked, shredded chicken or pork
• Cooked shrimp
• Cooked, ground beef
• Choice of toppings:
• Sour Cream
• Shredded lettuce
• Diced tomato
Warm a large skillet over medium heat. Spray the underside of the tortilla with cooking spray and place in pan. Add selected toppings. Add ½ cup shredded cheese. Top with another tortilla and spray with cooking spray. Flip with large spatula when bottom tortilla is brown. Remove when opposite side is brown and cheese is melted. Place on cutting board, cut, and serve with desired toppings or dips.
Here are some links to a few other delicious and healthy recipes from Food Network that the whole family can enjoy. Keep it fun and positive, and don’t forget to have the kids help with the clean up.
Crunchy Breakfast Tacos
Roasted Turkey and Basil Cream Cheese Pinwheels
*This article originally appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of The PediaMag.
*** Jennifer Yoon sees patients at the AHN Pediatrics — Pediatric Alliance St. Clair office. For an appointment, please call (412) 221-2121. Read more from Jennifer’s “Nutrition 4 Kids” column on The PediaBlog here.